The 5 Keys to Improve Professional Immigrants’ Inclusion in Canada

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I have written two articles for immigrants, one about volunteering to get acquainted with the Canadian culture, and another one about attitudes and behaviours during the job search. Today I want to address the other side of the table: what can hiring managers and HR professionals do to help highly-skilled immigrants to get hired and thrive in their professions in Canada?

Displaying effective soft skills is fundamental for success in Canada, and we talk so much about newcomers needing to polish them, but I’d also like to look at the attitudes, behaviours and work practices of employers. How can employers foster a good candidate experience by using soft skills as well as other practices?

I compiled a list of traits that I call “the 5 Cs of Support and Integration.”

1. Be CULTURALLY AWARE

Cultural awareness by definition refers to someone’s understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values. Being aware of these differences helps us adapt our approaches, attitudes, and decisions to ensure we get positive outcomes in cross-cultural interactions. It is about taking a step back and becoming genuinely interested in the other person’s point of view which could be influenced by their background.

As humans, we all possess something called “unconscious bias” which comprises learned stereotypes about others that are automatic, unintentional and deeply ingrained within our beliefs. Unconscious biases can affect our behaviours and attitudes towards immigrants. For example:

  • a person from my hometown can do a better job than someone who has studied and worked in another country;
  • a person who speaks English with an accent doesn’t understand the language well enough and doesn’t have the expertise necessary to be part of this new project;
  • a racialized immigrant has less proficiency and competence compared to Caucasian people.

Do you recognize yourself thinking this way? What’s the actual evidence to make these affirmations? We need to combat these biases because they can impact talent acquisition, performance management, promotions and succession planning.

If the person in charge of hiring holds these unconscious biases without even realizing it, they will disregard anyone who does not fit in their preferred categories.

Companies need to invest more in training on cultural awareness and unconscious bias to guarantee Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. Diverse talent will help businesses be innovative and successful, and if that talent feels they are consistently included and they truly belong to their teams and the company, their performance will likely be much higher.

According to a survey of over 6,000 global professionals conducted by LinkedIn in 2017, the following actions make employees feel like they truly belong to an organization: being recognized for their accomplishments (59%); having opportunities to express their opinions freely (51%) and feeling that their contributions in team meetings are valued (50%).

2. Be CREATIVE

Too often, talent acquisition professionals focus on “checking all the boxes”, hoping that the best candidate would possess 90–100% of the job requirements with a perfectly linear career trajectory. In the recruitment industry jargon, that ideal candidate is called a “unicorn”, a “superstar” or a “ninja” (believe it or not, some job ads include these words!) However, even if you do find such a candidate, there is no guarantee they will be successful once they’re hired.

During job interviews in Toronto, I was surprised at the attitudes of some narrow-minded recruiters. When applying to Human Resources Manager or Business Partner (HRBP) roles requiring “5+ years of HR experience,’’ I was often rejected for not having a “progressive career in HR.” A recruiter told me that in order to be an HRBP, I needed to have started my career as an HR Administrator, then moved on to be a Generalist, and HR Manager or HRBP. Therefore, my experience in other areas such as talent management consulting, instructional design, global projects, and change management were not enough to be considered for an HRBP role that required those experiences! I was dismissed as a candidate because I did not start my career as an HR Administrator. I was not their unicorn or superstar. My Japanese ancestry didn’t help me to become their ninja either!

Another recruiter from an agency said that I didn’t have the minimum years of experience handling a particular software. Apparently, the client was requesting “three to five years of experience” when I had only used the program for six months. It didn’t matter what I could do or not do with the software; they wanted someone with at least three years using it. Every other experience listed on my resume didn’t matter. Did she (or the client) realize that software can become outdated in just two years? I politely said, “I have six months of solid experience and can do a test on the spot if the hiring manager requests it; please communicate that to your client.” Her tone became quite negative and I never heard back from her.

If an employer doesn’t consider transferable skills and relevant experience as a whole, and solely focuses on their perfect candidate profile, how many qualified candidates are being left out?

Fortunately, I have also met many open-minded talent acquisition professionals who considered my transferable skills, work experience, and integrity. They also valued building genuine relationships with candidates, which speaks to their quality as HR professionals.

When sourcing for diverse talent, employers can take a more creative approach and look for people with unconventional or non-traditional backgrounds. This includes candidates with global experience and non-linear careers who immigrated to Canada. If your company caters to diverse clients, why not hire diverse employees so that they contribute their original ideas?

3. Be CUSTOMER CENTRIC

Have you ever thought that job candidates can be your customers as well? The impression you make throughout the hiring process is the impression they get about your organization, and how it treats customers.

After my first six months in Canada, I applied to jobs through a recruitment agency, and my experience dealing with them as a candidate was excellent. They informed me about every step promptly, checked how I felt after the interviews, and gave me additional insights to prepare well. She kept calling me every time a new role aligned with my skills came up. Even after I got a job (not through her agency), this recruiter kept in touch with me by sending me a message occasionally. To reciprocate, whenever there was a chance I referred candidates to her, and when I was in a position to hire team members, the first thing I did was reach out to her to discuss the open roles. Her firm provided other services, so I introduced her to other companies and decision-makers as well.

In contrast, I also encountered negative situations like the time a recruiter did not care to present himself properly. Right after I greeted him on the phone with “Hi, this is Liliana, how are you?” he quickly replied, “Oh hi! Okay! So, how many years in HR?” (!!) No self-introduction, no mention of the role I had applied to, and the whole interview afterward was purely transactional: question-answer-question-answer… While it was straight to the point and efficient, as a candidate I did not get a good impression. Needless to say, I completely lost interest in the job and his firm.

Another practice that greatly bothers me is “ghosting.” When the company suddenly stops responding to candidates after one or more interviews, their tacit message is, “we don’t value you anymore.” Quite often I had to follow up at least twice after a second or third interview where I met the hiring manager and their boss, and even in those cases, they did not reply.

For a particular job to which I had applied, a recruiter phoned me to do the interview on the spot. Since I was outside and couldn’t speak for long, I gave her an alternative time to discuss the following day, to which she agreed. However, she never called! I left two voicemails afterwards (she was in the US), and still nothing. I felt very disappointed with this lack of consideration and will never think of using her company’s services.

Regardless of the process outcome and the reasons for delays in communications, what else can be done to show respect to candidates who are or can become your potential customers?

In contrast, I’ve had a few positive experiences where the hiring manager replied directly, or the recruiter called me to provide the results, gave me time to ask questions, and encouraged me to apply again in the future. If there are people who take the time to do this, I don’t see why others can’t.

Every human interaction triggers emotions and reactions. If you don’t treat candidates like your precious customers, chances are they will not buy your company’s products and services in the future. Moreover, they will likely tell others in their network or write online reviews about their experience which will contribute to your company’s reputation.

4. Be CARING

Any candidate, immigrant or Canadian born, will experience a myriad of emotions throughout the hiring process such as hope, joy, discouragement, disappointment, anxiety, etc. Some might be on the verge of depression if they had been searching for a while without getting positive results.

Unfortunately there are recruiters who show a dismissive or condescending attitude towards job seekers, especially if they are immigrants. I know a few newcomers who have been very successful in their careers abroad, and are now looking for their first job in Canada. They all described initial phone interviews that start very positively, but as soon as they mentioned their most recent work experience was from outside Canada, the interviewer gasped, changed their tone, and ended the interview. Some even dare to say “oh, I need someone with Canadian experience” and hang up. Such insensitive attitudes are not acceptable. The Ontario Human Rights Commission establishes best practices to ensure this type of discrimination is eliminated from all hiring processes.

Other interviewers are much nicer but speak a mile a minute and don’t make any pause between sentences. During a phone interview, it can be very hard for the candidate to process so much information at once. They also tend to expect very quick answers from candidates so that they can finish all interviews as soon as possible.

Instead of focusing on going through all candidates quickly as if they were commodities, what can you do to show that you care for each human being that is being interviewed?

Human Resources professionals, as well as line managers in charge of hiring, could show more understanding and empathy toward job seekers’ situations and emotions. Put yourself in their shoes!

I also want to stress the importance of good onboarding practices. Most employers nowadays want a new employee to “hit the ground running”, and expect 100% performance in the second week after hiring them. They totally forget the learning curve that exists for any new job. A newly hired employee is going through a huge change in their everyday life, let alone an immigrant who is new to this country.

A caring attitude towards a new employee includes listening well, double-checking to ensure understanding, acknowledging emotions, and encouraging them to speak up. It also means allowing for mistakes and giving them timely, constructive feedback as part of the learning process. Organizations that equip leaders with effective communication and coaching skills know how to integrate new employees and make them feel supported and valued.

5. Be CONSISTENT

Many companies in Canada lack well defined, standardized and consistent hiring processes. They rely on their hiring managers to devise their own interview questions and cases for evaluating candidates. Some managers believe that interviewing is “just having a chat” with the candidate to see if they can carry a coherent conversation. They use different questions for each candidate, and quite often, they don’t take good notes of the candidates’ answers. Then, at the time of choosing “the best” candidate, they rely on their intuition rather than objective data. The problem with this approach is that the criteria and processes are not consistent, which can lead to not only hiring the wrong person but also potentially discriminating against certain groups.

In the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), companies are also jumping into using new tools and technologies that replace the screening process done by humans. After applying online, some companies sent me an automated email inviting me to record answers on video, and do a personality test that included interactive games. In only one occasion I received the results of the test via email along with a rejection message, without any explanation on what was behind their decision not to interview me. This process just felt so impersonal!

I’m not against AI since it does save time, but I hold some concerns regarding the validity and reliability of the outcomes, as well as how the results are being handled. Tech experts have warned that AI hiring tools might pick up on preexisting human biases; therefore more research and testing would be needed. Companies should not be replacing entire processes with one technology hoping that it will solve all problems.

Realistically speaking, no tool makes perfect decisions, but HR professionals should monitor outcomes so that they have the intended impact, and make corrections as early as possible.

Organizations of any size can benefit from defining and setting up a structured hiring process that is consistent for every role and level, with accurate job descriptions, interview guides, and assessments by third parties, accompanied by training for hiring managers.

Final Thoughts

I realize that in some examples I sound quite judgmental, but I believe someone has to call these issues out to raise awareness. While recent immigrants do need to understand the Canadian culture and acceptable attitudes, people who are in charge of hiring & selection could grow a more conscious intention to ensure diversity, inclusion and belonging.

HR Project Manager with experience living and working in Argentina, Japan and Canada. Life-long learner, world traveler, writer, coach and avid networker.

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